On the 25th floor of the Faegre Baker Daniels building Downtown Tuesday morning, a veteran Hoosier Democrat and the Indiana Senate Majority Floor Leader, a Republican, faced a blunt question from their host: "What the hell is going on in Washington?"
As guest speakers of the Indy Chamber's "Pancakes and Politics"
series, Former Congressman Baron Hill, D-Ind., and Brandt Hershman, R-Buck Creek, both representatives of the bi-partisan lobbying campaign Fix the Debt
, explored the ongoing ramifications of the government shutdown and the partisanship that hampers constructive work to reduce the federal debt, which, as of last Friday, topped $1 trillion [$1,000,000,000,000].
"There seems to be a growing distaste for some of the political rhetoric going around and growing recognition that the current path is unsustainable," Hershman said.
To foster an environment more conducive to productive negotiations on federal spending and tax reform - both essential to securing the nation's long-term fiscal stability, according to Fix the Debt - voters must take primary elections more seriously, the speakers said.
Both Hill and Hershman acknowledged the surfeit of so-called "safe districts," which can drive candidates to take hard-line stances to mollify certain segments of the party base as seen with 2010's Tea Party-driven mid-term election and Richard Mourdock's upset of U.S. Sen. Dick Lugar in the 2012 primary. In the 2012 primary, 21 percent of the registered voters in Marion County hit the polls, according to data maintained by the Secretary of State's office. Statewide, 22 percent of registered voters exercised that right.
"It is the lack of general public involvement in primaries that has the great impact on who is ultimately elected," Hershman said.
"What flavor of Republican or Democrat do you put into that relatively safe seat?" The choices politicians are currently making about how to act in Washington D.C. will have ramifications in the next election, Hill noted.
"The adults in the room understand something needs to be done (to advance negotiations on the federal debt and deficit)," Hill said. "And, if they don't, there will be a price to pay politically."
Ahead of a Dec. 14 conference, set as part of last week's deal to raise the debt ceiling, some members of Congress are working to make progress toward reforms in entitlement spending and the tax code, Hill added, noting, "From what I'm hearing, there are some good things going on behind the scenes."
In its effort to collect signatures to petition Congress to address the debt and deficit, Fix the Debt espouses this position: "Through smart adjustments to budget and tax code, we can save over $4 trillion while protecting our most vulnerable, keeping America secure and strengthening our economy for future generations."
FixTheDebt.org includes a "Build Your Own Budget"
tool so that individuals can explore how different allocation strategies affect the overall fiscal outlook, potentially positioning people to better communicate with their elected representatives.
The Chamber's next Pancakes and Politics breakfast will be a preview of the 2014 Indiana General Assembly session titled "You are Your Best Lobbyist" is set for 7:30 a.m. on Dec. 3.